Brotherhood of the Internet Keys: Who Are the Chosen Seven?

Tolkien had his rings of power, King Arthur his round table, and now, the Internet has its own answer: a select group of seven individuals worldwide who hold keys to protect the Web after disaster.

It may sound like the plot of a science fiction movie. But Internet security experts say it's part of real effort to bolster security online.

VIDEO: High Tech Banking
null

So what if the fellowship isn't exactly secretive, or the keys aren't really keys? (They're smartcards embedded with pieces of a security code.)

The seven people chosen from different parts of the world still play a valuable role in a new system to make websites safer and less vulnerable to attack.

"It has a mythic quality to it," said Dan Kaminsky, one of the seven key holders and a prominent computer security expert.

But he added that the system makes use of a principle that goes all the way back to the Founding Fathers. The power to protect the system is split among seven people so that no one person can abuse the power, he said.

"The idea being that the only force that could bring [the key holders] together would be a legitimate force. The only thing everyone has in common is the desire for the common good," he said.

Kaminsky also said that though the seven-person structure recalls the famous fellowships of history and literature, this new brotherhood is actually, well, "quite prosaic."

Richard Lamb, program manager for the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), an international Internet oversight group, said that earlier this summer his group began the launch of a new security system called DNSSEC.

DNSSEC (for Domain Name System Security Extensions) makes sure Web users reach the sites they want, and prevents cyber criminals from redirecting users to malicious websites.

Five of Seven 'Keyholders' Needed to Re-Start Security System

To win confidence from countries, companies and individuals worldwide, Lamb said ICANN recruited 21 people from around the globe to help keep the system up and running.

Seven of them hold the "keys" to restart the system in case of disaster.

In the event of a terrorist attack or natural disaster that threatened the DNSSEC, Lamb said five of the seven keyholders would meet in one physical location. Code from the five smartcards would be combined to help re-launch the system.

"Since no one trusts anyone completely on the Internet, the only way to create a key that the Internet will trust, and therefore use, is to have no one party control it. That's the idea behind requiring the participation of international representatives from the [Internet] technical community," he said.

But though the plan conjures up images of mythical proportions -- all of cyberspace, saved by a few brave souls amid the rubble -- Lamb said the chances of the five keyholders ever convening post-crisis are pretty slim. He also said the system does not keep the entire Internet running, but rather maintains a layer of security for it.

"This is something that is only used in the extreme cases of disaster response … if the West Coast falls into the ocean and the East Coast is hit by a nuke. Only then would we call five of the seven," he said.

ICANN: Keyholders Would Only Be Called in Extreme Disaster Situations

Still, he said the seven individuals were carefully chosen to make sure different parts of the world were represented.

Page
  • 1
  • |
  • 2
Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...
See It, Share It
PHOTO: Up in Ash: Mount Sinabung Erupting
Tibt Nangin/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
PHOTO: Firefighters rescue a woman who got stuck in a chimney in Thousand Oaks, Calif.
Ventura County Fire Department
PHOTO: Apple Pay is demonstrated at Apple headquarters on Oct. 16, 2014 in Cupertino, Calif.
Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP Photo
PHOTO: Defendant Jodi Arias testifies about killing Travis Alexander in 2008 during her murder trial in Phoenix, Feb. 20, 2013.
Charlie Leight/The Arizona Republic/AP Photo